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There’s no doubting it-companies are increasingly shifting their deployments to the cloud, leaving the option of “on premise” behind. And why not? This is, after all, a challenging time for the space, what with the advent (and increase of) over-the-top (OTT) players, quick turnarounds, on the fly scalability, enhanced payment models, etc. all. Surely, there is no cause for debate!

But, let us examine it from a different perspective. Could there be any reason for services to be delivered from as near to the user as possible? Could there be any reason for communication service providers to deploy edge computing nodes closed to the end users? Could there be advantages to be accrued by the end consumers, the service providers and the communication service operators themselves? I allude to benefits such as improved response times, reduced bandwidth consumption, better quality of service, data offload, etc, of course.

If you ask me, the answer to these questions are all affirmative.

Permit me to explain.

The challenges the end users are facing today are multiple-delayed and jittery content delivery, site loading time, video quality, delivery, buffering, etc. All these directly impact the consumers’ service experience. From the communication service providers’ standpoint, it is a no-win, as, despite heavy investments in upgrading the core network; the benefits are too few-for them and the customer. Why?

First, content processing and delivery is taking place from the cloud, which may reside continents away. Even if data capacity is available on the communication service providers’ air-interface, the internet could get so choked that consumers are not able to obtain the required throughput. In fact, this challenge is becoming increasingly compounded, as multiple data intensive applications attain center stage today. These, of course, include, multi-player/AR/VR gaming, OTT streaming services, increased surveillance use cases, penetration of IIOT, expansion of smart cities and artificial intelligence (AI) applications.

Secondly, as a majority of end-users utilize a significant amount of mobile data (which is quite an understatement!), deploying edge cloud delivery networks (CDN) becomes very urgent. Of course, this deployment can take place either at the communication service providers’ outfit itself or at central places, determined through collaboration amongst communication service providers. The reason is simple-ensuring content caching is achieved near users and can be delivered locally, instead of content originating from remote origin servers or CDN servers. It not only reduces latency, but results in saving the bandwidth cost for the communication service providers as users requests are not going to the internet every time. On top of it, intelligent edge CDN can be considered an innovation. Intelligent CDN supports the model, where, depending on the user data network, the location of CDN or edge CDN is determined. If user accesses the data from the operator, the content service provider returns the edge CDN to access the content. In case data is being accessed via Wi-Fi or some other place on the internet, this access takes place on the cloud CDN or a direct to origin server. Thus, one gets the best out of using a distributed cloud and edge computing.

In a nutshell, these innovations are required to optimize cost, enhance user experience or serve content as fast as its consumption. What is crucial to keep in mind here is that as an increasing number of consumers begin consuming data, factors such as reduced data rates, increased service penetrations, increases awareness or whatever the case may be, the bandwidth available in the network is not infinite.

In my opinion, the time has come to take information processing as close to the edge as possible i.e. to the place where most of the data is either getting consumed or generated. The idea is to take only processed information to the cloud, so as to minimize data consumption and enhanced user experience.

Indeed, technology 2.0 comes to the fore!

May 18, 2020 0 comment
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With the digital world of data becoming the focal point of discussions and innovation, there is unparalleled hype over what it takes to be a digital enterprise in this day and age. Data sits at the center of the digital revolution, and companies that have determined the best possible way to extract meaning out of data are well on their way to glory.

An organization takes its first steps into the digital world of change when it realizes and utilizes the importance of cloud-based technologies like AI and IoT. These services are used to better manage data and to generate the best possible insights from it on a real-time basis.

The insights generated from your data through cloud-based services like IoT and AI can help improve business processes, automate tasks, design new products and manage operations in an efficient manner. All of this enables you to cut down on costs and get the most out of the unstructured data currently lying idle in your data warehouse. Part of the reason why companies are earnestly contemplating the idea of becoming a digital enterprise is the opportunity to deliver an advanced customer experience. Advancing upon digital transformation is just the start of a journey that eventually helps you become a digital enterprise.

Ronald Van Loon is a Comviva partner and is directly associated with the digital world of change and innovation. He has worked within the industry for over 2 decades now and has seen organizations grab the digital baton of change to become a digital enterprise.

The need for better productivity and performance is one of the reasons driving digital change forward.  Recent research has also predicted the potential rise in business opportunities through AI. “In 2018, MGI estimated that an additional $13 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2030 from today through digitization, automation, and AI as these technologies create major new business opportunities and productivity gains are reinvested in economies.”

To become a digital enterprise is a sought after objective for most organizations because of the competitive advantages of gaining real-time insights. A digital enterprise can make decisions in the heat of a moment through the presence of real-time analytics, and much more. From product design to improving the customer experience, there is real-time data available for organizations to utilize and make decisions from.

Performance Benefits of Becoming a Digital Enterprise

As you might know, there are numerous performance benefits that arise out of becoming a digital enterprise. These benefits help assist your business in one way or the other and enable your organization to perform at its full potential.

Unified Customer Experience

Artificial Intelligence helps you to give personalized and meaningful experiences to all customers across industries. The impact of personalized experiences generated through data and AI are felt in both B2C and B2B industries.

In Business to Customer (B2C) industries, customers are benefiting from hyper-personalized experiences. These experiences are generated as a result of personalized applications and targeted advertising. Customer profiling is done, and potent advertising strategies are developed on the basis of that profiling. B2C industries are also able to apply their knowledge of customers in customer support areas as well. Customer support agents identify the customer’s profile and provide them with support in a manner that is best suited to their needs.

AI can work wonders in B2B as well, as here it identifies lead times and also helps in determining leads that will make prompt purchases, and what they want. AI can also determine what other businesses want through a history of their interactions and buying patterns.

Business Transformation

Going digital allows you to completely transform your business for the better as you’ll be in a position to generate innovation and push your organization forward in areas of strategic value. Data migration and cloud integration also helps create an ideal ‘go virtual’ sphere and automates specific processes.

Automation

Carrying on from where we left in the previous point, automation is another amazing benefit of digital transformation. You can now automate low-value tasks that are highly repetitive. This allows humans to apply their skills to more important and complicated tasks. The entire process can help you prioritize efficiency and optimize your production processes.

Optimized Workflow

The basic idea behind digital transformation was to pair technology and people together to get the best possible outcomes. The resulting workflow optimization is due to the supportive role of AI-empowered tools and technologies.

Organizations can coordinate their digital strategies across technological and human capabilities to obtain desired results from these assets and resources. Even organizations who are at early stages in digital transformation stand to gain from the benefits of optimized workflows due to pairing automation with human talent.

Adaptability

Markets are shifting and changing as a result of the digital revolution, and organizations are looking to adapt their business models as a result. All companies with digital aspirations are looking to broaden their horizons and seize new opportunities from a flexible digital business model. However, before you digitize your services and offer products-as-a-service or subscriptions through the digital network, it is necessary that you implement a more secure and flexible infrastructure than the legacy model you currently have.

Use Case: A Study of Intelligent Banking

Banking is one of the many sectors experiencing limitless growth because of digitalization. Some of the ways banks are currently using their core digital processes for growth are:

  • Developing strategies centered on customer engagement. Banks realize the importance of customer engagement and are building new strategies around this high-priority initiative.
  • Banks are looking for ways to optimize the customer experience by personalizing it. Personalization is achieved through an in-depth understanding of customers, achieved through a thorough analysis of customer-generated data.
  • Growing their capabilities to provide an end-to-end digital experience. Customers want as much convenience as they can get in this digital age, which is why banks have to provide an end-to-end digital experience.

Recent research suggested that 80% of all banks are highly aware of the potential benefits that AI can bring for them. The application of AI across the company can save banks billions of dollars through fraud detection and improvement in the customer experience.

Conclusion

Companies utilizing and implementing digital technologies are racing ahead of the competition. Building a synchronized digital enterprise helps you in optimizing efficiency and getting the best from your staff, technology, processes, and workflows. Additionally, you can also use real-time analysis to offer customization to all customers. This customization will eventually play a vital role in improving and bettering the customer experience.

Comviva supports building digital enterprises and is a key stakeholder in helping organizations act upon technological opportunities. 

March 3, 2020 0 comment
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly a popular buzzword in the industry today and according to surveys by TM Forum, many have now “deployed” AI and are looking to scale. But deploying AI means different things and it depends on the strategy adopted by the organisation for implementing AI.

For some, a proof-of-concept (POC) has been successfully executed and a model has been created that uses machine learning (ML) algorithms. For example, in the context of telecom customer value management (CVM), this is often around churn or decay prediction, and the date and value of the next recharge.

For others, it means the technical capability has been put in place to build, evaluate and execute ML-driven models across multiple use cases – our own AI at Scale platform is a case in point. It can be used for building, evaluating and running in production both CVM and non-CVM models.

Typically, the AI platform will sit on top an existing big data lake or incorporate a data fusion layer to capture data from multiple sources (covering real-time and batch, structured and unstructured data).

A fully functioning AI platform provides a graphic user interface (GUI)- based workbench for data scientists to rapidly build models using ML algorithms. It also supports the full lifecycle of model creation and execution; data ingestion, data exploration, feature engineering, model development and evaluation, and deployment and execution in production.

But, along with the technology challenges associated with scaling for AI, there are larger implications for the “people” and “processes” that go along with it.  Often, our clients will point out that one of the biggest challenges they face is the hiring and retention of key talent in data science. Understandable, really, as data scientists are in a “hot” market. This is why companies will often turn to partners to assist.

In fact, this people-centric factor is not only limited to the data science team. In the context of CVM, marketers need to adapt. It is one thing to be designing and implementing campaigns that are based on business rules created by a marketer; the criteria for the segment, and the offer to make to that segment. It is quite a different thing to be prepared to leave this to a “black box” solution.  This is exactly what a ML model is. It is next to impossible with a ML-driven model to determine exactly why a particular offer is made to a particular customer.

Therefore, a scaling strategy is required, that allows confidence to be built. For example, allowing the model to apply to a proportion of the base while the traditional business rules approach is applied to the remainder. When positive results are seen, then the proportion of the base that receives offers based on the model can be increased.

An ancillary consequence of this is that the robustness of the methodology for measuring performance is critical. There must be confidence that when an improved result is seen, it is trusted. This is why effort is required to ensure the universal control group (UCG) is highly representative of the base. Performance is measured as the difference between the UCG and the universal target group.

The “process” side is also extremely critical. This covers the governance and practices in place to ensure data integrity is maintained, and that data is updated when expected. Critically, it also covers those processes associated with putting a new model into production. This DevOps side is particularly challenging for many organisations because there are new practices to be developed. A ML driven model is not constant. By its very nature it changes while in production, which is very different from what we see as “normal” software deployment. In fact, this is so different that the TM Forum has a Catalyst stream in progress for “AIOps” to develop frameworks for supporting the operations of AI. Engage with this Catalyst programme to keep abreast with the thinking as it develops. And perhaps become a contributor.

November 28, 2019 0 comment
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Fortuitous circumstances led me to visit the United Nations during the General Assembly week not too long ago. I was amongst the privileged few to participate as a panelist at the Digital Future of Development track during the proceedings.

In fact, my good fortune kept adding up. The panel was conducted by Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. Permit me to provide a brief overview of the proceedings. Overall, the session unearthed multi-dimensional perspectives. Unsurprisingly, really, given that each individual is a trailblazer in their respective field!

The first panelist, Rob Nail, chief executive officer (CEO), Singularity University, offered his perspective on technology uptake. He stressed that while the general expectation from any new technology is immediate (and phenomenal) uptake, this is a far cry from reality. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more, technologies take time to reach an inflection point. Consider mobile banking and digital financial services. Initial adoption was sluggish (to say the least) in most countries, before an inflection point was reached. Thereafter, uptake took off significantly, to put it mildly.

Next up was H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, commissioner of Infrastructure and Energy, the African Union. She passionately aired her views on the transformation the continent is undergoing, what with the uptake of artificial intelligence, et all. Her optimism was infectious; it spurred me to ensure our efforts in Africa increase multifold. Equally moving was Gregory Rockson, CEO, mPharma, who showcased the importance of leveraging technology to make medical treatment affordable for all. Last but certainly not the least, was Natalie Jabangwe, CEO, EcoCash. She highlighted how Zimbabwe has transformed into a digital- first financial services economy, whilst stressing upon the importance of financial inclusion.

On my part, I felt it pertinent to highlight the role India was playing in the field of digital financial services. As is common knowledge, India was one of the early adopters of digital financial services in the developing world. Internet banking made its foray in the country in the second half of the nineties, while mobile banking made its debut a decade later. Let’s not forget, however, India offers an interesting study in contrasts. While a small part of the country was digitally evolving, a significant portion remained untouched by the digital revolution.  This stark reality compelled government, banks and financial institutions to take drastic measures. These entities therefore collaborated and, subsequently, created disruptions to accelerate financial inclusion in the country.

It is imperative to state, however, that microfinance was the first major disruption in this space. The numbers tell all-as of March 2019, there are over 93 million microfinance accounts in India. The industry boasts a gross loan portfolio (GLP) of $26.38 billion. Another aspect of microfinance in India is the Self-Help Group (SHG) movement. This has, without a doubt, emerged as the world‘s largest and most successful network of women-owned community-based microfinance institution. The Self Help Group Bank Linkage Programme (SHG-BLP) is a landmark model initiated by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in 1992. It is aimed at delivering affordable banking services and facilitating financial inclusion. Today, SHG-BLP caters to 120 million households through more than 10 million SHGs. Deposits span over $3.24 billion and annual loan off-take value is $8.16 billion.

The JAM trinity (Jan Dhan, Aadhar and mobile phones) is another major initiative. Launched in 2014, Jan Dhan has certainly proved its mettle, providing over 370 million bank accounts. Consequently, over 80 per cent of India’s adults are now financially included, compared to a mere 35 per cent in 2011. Notably, 53 per cent of Jan Dhan account holders are women and 58 per cent reside in rural and semi-urban areas. To provide a global perspective, Jan Dhan upholds several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include the SDG 8, expanding financial inclusion, SDG 5 – giving women equal access to financial services and SDG 10 – promoting economic inclusion for all.

Universal financial access attained through Jan Dhan certainly changed the game. For one, the government obtained the opportunity to reduce corruption and losses incurred whilst transferring subsidies and benefits to citizens. The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and Aadhar tools proved very effective to achieve this. The DBT enabled the government to directly transfer subsides and benefits of various social welfare schemes to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts. Meanwhile, the Aadhar identification tool, with over 1.2 billion holders, was linked to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts which, of course, had its own set of benefits. Currently, DBT supports 437 schemes of 56 ministries and has processed over $119.68 billion since inception. DBT and other governance reforms have brought about estimated savings of $19.78 billion. Not just that, it has helped India make significant progress in SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) by reducing corruption.

It doesn’t end there, of course. Merely storing funds in bank accounts isn’t enough. Customers would, naturally, require touch-points to cash-out the funds, which is more vital since India is still primarily a cash-based economy. The Micro ATMs introduced by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) in 2015 offered a viable solution. The aim is simple-expand the banking system’s last-mile reach, particularly in rural areas. Since its inception, over 577 million financial transactions valuing $21.29 billion have been processed by micro ATMs. Moreover, mobile handsets have proliferated significantly, naturally implying that these devices have emerged as important transaction channels as well.

These initiatives, have, of course, had a cascading impact overall. Here’s how-collectively, the Jan Dhan, Aadhar, the proliferation of mobile handsets and DBT have simplified the implementation of government-driven schemes. These schemes, needless to say, drive the SDGs as well. For instance, the Ujjwala Scheme aims to provide clean cooking fuel to women who have traditionally relied on firewood, coal and dung cakes. An equally vital aim is to prevent premature deaths, due to polluted air in the household-estimated at 480,000 deaths per year! Under the scheme, 80 million households below the poverty line have been provided a free gas connection. This was followed by the “Give it Up” campaign, where over 11 million affluent customers surrender their LPG subsidy. These initiatives removed 38 million “ghost” or “fake” beneficiaries from the system. The $6.3 billion saved was then distributed to customers in rural areas without access to clean cooking gas. The Ujjwala Scheme directly or indirectly impact multiple SDGs including SDG 3 (Good Health and Well Being), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).

Another example is the Micro Units Development & Refinance Agency (MUDRA). This institution is aimed at providing loans to micro and small enterprises, with credit needs below $14,000. Under the MUDRA scheme, 155.6 million loans amounting to $101.26 billion have been disbursed. About 75 per cent of the recipients are women. The MUDRA scheme impacts the SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and the SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure).

The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) threw its hat in the ring once again, with the introduction of two vital schemes. I allude, of course, to the Immediate Payment Service (IMPS) and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). The former (for which I was, as a happy coincidence, involved in establishing the standards) provides 24×7 real-time interbank electronic fund transfer. The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) powers multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application (of any participating bank). Of course, several banking features, seamless fund routing and merchant payments are all merged under one hood. UPI allows users to create a unique virtual address (like abc@xyzbank) and use it for transferring money and make payments from devices such as mobile handsets. The IMPS and UPI have 498 and 141 participating banks respectively. Over the last one year, (from September 2018 to August 2019) IMPS and UPI have collectively processed 10.26 billion transactions, valuing $465.66 billion.

Clearly, progress has been marching on in India, with (hopefully) no signs of flagging. I would like to conclude by stating that technology ought to be invested in “for the greater good”. Digital technologies ought to encompass every section of society and every individual. No holds barred, of course.

 

November 26, 2019 0 comment
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The digital world is growing for telecom operators. With advanced options and the opportunity to get shares in a rapidly advancing market, operators are realizing the impact of improved operational activities.

Understanding the Opportunity

This enhanced interest in the digital market does not come without any benefit or costs for operators. The market presents excellent revenue gain potential, but only for telecom operators that are willing to make the necessary investments. With customer demands also increasing, it is no secret that the expenditure on IT and the overall revenues made through operations are expected to increase for operators.

These findings have been included in the most recent ICT insights survey by the research firm Ovum. According to the survey, a majority of 70 percent operators are planning to increase their net IT expenditure over the course of the next year. Almost 30 percent of these operators are planning to increase these costs by either 6 percent or more. This increase in net total spend for the IT sector indicates the fact that telecom operators are beginning to realize the potential that the market holds.

This growing increase in the number of companies increasing their IT budget is expected to have a cascading impact on the revenue generation of the OSS/BSS domain globally. Ovum has also indicated that the annual revenues from the OSS/BSS market are expected to grow to $22.5 billion in 2022 from $17.5 billion in 2017. This CAGR of 5.8 percent is one of the best in the market and makes the telecom industry a hot property for revenue generation in the future. Current telecom operators with their established infrastructures have a great opportunity to latch on to these challenges. Read on to find out how.

Delivering Next Generation Services

To deliver next generation services, operators need to step out of the realm of what governs the industry currently and implement futuristic methods of governance. This movement towards the future is not just confined to keeping pace with technology trends and chalking out competitive and updated strategies. This step towards the future entails a lot more, such as the eagerness to update to the infrastructure of next generation technologies, such as 5G, network functions virtualization, and the Internet of Things among many others. The use of these technologies in creating smarter networks will dictate the future pace of development.

Simply put, since the telecom operator industry has an intensely competitive environment, operators need to use all up-to-date methods to stay relevant in the picture. The underlying idea behind this is to shift from the traditional system-centric approach and go towards a more end-to-end service-centric one. Operators need to revise their current strategies in a bid to incorporate smarter services that:

  • Are tested in the market for scalability and agility
  • Include a large industry ecosystem that is aimed at new customer markets and segments
  • Facilitate the growth of personal and real-time communication.

Understanding OSS/BSS and What Ails Them

OSS/BSS stand for operation support system and business support system respectively. These two systems work in tandem to support a wide range of telecommunication services and make life easy for telecom operators.

Operation support systems usually assist in the management of communication networks. These tools help in the coordination of resources for designing, building, maintaining, and operating communication networks.

Business support systems help organizations to reach out to their customers and create an offer for them. These offers are personalized in order to give special offers to each customer based on their preferences and usage patterns.

OSS/BSS systems currently have a long way to go before they can support this digital transformation. Most operators have a complex maze of legacy systems that are not compatible with the requirements of these technologies. To maintain a competitive edge, operators are now looking at and thinking of planning beyond the traditional KPIs of profit margins, revenue, etc. Instead, we now have criteria such as efficiency, customer experience, agility, quicker time to market, and seamless product delivery in the mix.

However, with the current extent and limitations of legacy systems, operators cannot meet these requirements. They’re falling short on numerous counts, including the duplication of information, which adversely impacts the time to market for several products.

Underlying Trends and the Journey so Far

Regardless of the implications, operators have come a long way in the implementation of OSS and BSS strategies. Some underlying trends are expected to phase out over the course of the next couple of years. It is initially expected that software as a service (SaaS) stacks will rise to the fore. Operators realize the impact of competition and are looking for cost-efficient stacks that can be rapidly deployed at any given time.

Moreover, it is expected that the revenue from analysis-based tools will significantly increase over time. This change will be driven by the maturation of AI and machine learning tools that enhance the analysis process over time.

The Changes in Play

The changes brought through digital transformation are already in play and can be seen across multiple industries. Here are three OSS/BSS examples in major industries:

Retail

In retail, addressing business activities like sales and inventory management are still a significant challenge for operators. This is how the BSS system can facilitate in this industry.

  • An efficient POS system. Point of Sale systems play an important role in the overall buying process. The addition of a CRM in these systems enables enterprises to configure the mode of payments and price lists, and to restrict individual channels of payment.
  • The digital solution plays an important part in executing end-to-end management of logistics at the backend. Finding the correct product mix with optimal inventory and store capacity is the final aim.
  • Retailers work with a broad ecosystem of partners, and a BSS solution helps them to manage this ecosystem efficiently. From managing invoices to setting delivery details, the system works best when creating and following schedules.

Enhancing the Usage Pattern of Customer Data

A BSS can be used across industries because of its ability to help organizations enhance the usage pattern of customer data. By augmenting services such as service bundling as well as switching and gift services, the BSS/OSS improves the selling process based on insights from customer data.

Banking

The following changes can be influenced by a BSS across the banking sector:

  • Simplifies the customer acquisition process for banking services.
  • Lead collection systems are facilitated.
  • Customer complaints are dealt with in a professional manner to mitigate the negative PR that might arise out of them.

Achieving the Transformation

The passage towards a modernized OSS/BSS system can come through multiple efforts.

The Enablers

These three key aspects of the digital transformation have to be at the core in order to enable the transformation towards modern OSS/BSS systems:

  • Enhanced customer experience
  • Operational agility
  • Focus on platform play

Models to Drive Change

To drive change in the customer experience, operators need to be focused on:

  • A cloud based server for micro-services.
  • Real-time communication, or the provision of real-time analytics.
  • A layered architecture that hinders all forms of data duplication.

Download the Mahindra Comviva E-Book to learn more about the digital transformation for telecom operators, and how you can be a part of it.

October 15, 2018 0 comment
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